Violent start marks vote that could determine whether one of Europe's poorest countries will have chance of joining EU.
Last Modified: 23 Jun 2013 10:57
|An Albanian opposition activist has been killed and a commissioner from the ruling Democratic Party wounded in an exchange of gunfire shortly after voting began in Sunday's tense election.|
The police named the victim as 53-year-old Gjon Pjeter Gjoni, an activist from the Socialist Party in the town of Lac, about 60km northwest of the capital Tirana.
Mhill Fufi, a candidate for Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s Democratic Party, and another person were injured in the shootout.
Al Jazeera’s Sonia Gallego, reporting from Tirana, said she had no confirmation about whether any voters had been shot.
Following the shootout, the Socialist Party leader Edi Rama, who is trying to unseat Berisha, cancelled his own scheduled vote to go to Lac.
The elections are being held against a backdrop of accusations of vote-buying and voter roll irregularities, sparking fears of a repeat of the 2009 polls which ended in a political crisis.
The vote will see the country's 3.2 million voters choosing legislators for the 140-seat assembly.
A day before the vote, the Central Electoral Commission remained paralysed, with no progress made in a bid to replace three of the commission's seven members.
The members resigned in April over a dispute between Berisha's ruling coalition and Rama's Socialist-led opposition.
A Western diplomat who asked not to be named warned of a "great risk the results [of Sunday's polls] would be contested, either by the outgoing coalition or by the opposition".
EU officials said the vote "represents a crucial test for the country's democratic institutions and its progress towards the European Union".
Albania's EU membership application has been rejected twice in the past in part because of its governance problems.
Since the collapse of Enver Hoxha's communist regime in 1990, polls in the country have been marred by violence and allegations of vote-fixing.
The electoral system appears to be struggling to meet international standards and the opposition has complained about irregularities in the voters' register.
Opposition leader Rama said there were attempts by the ruling Democrats to buy voters.
"I strongly hope that people's will would not be manipulated ... but these elections are not like ones that a NATO or EU member country should have," Rama said.
Berisha, a 69-year old cardiologist who is seeking his third term as prime minister, dismissed Rama's claims as an "opposition's attempt to justify in advance its next electoral defeat".
The prime minister's Democrats have pledged new investments while accelerating Albania's path towards the EU.
Berisha has also promised a six percent hike in wages and pensions to come into effect after the election.
The Albanian Prime Minister, said he wanted "another four years, the most ambitious in my life, [in order] to realise the dream of Albania joining EU".
Analysts have predicted a tight race between the two men.
About 600 international observers will monitor the polls which opened at 0500 GMT Sunday and close at 1700 GMT, while first preliminary results are expected on Monday.